“Strays” by Marion Deeds
Reviewed by Kat Day
On April 1st Flash Fiction Online placed a message on their page saying that this issue would be their last: they were closing down due to lack of funds. This has happened to other publications lately, so seemed believable and the notice was rather, I have to say, lacking in humor—an April Fool’s joke traditionally gets absurd toward the end with something like a quote from Ima Pullenurlegg. Anyway, phew, it turns out that it was intended as a joke—the Editorial page now has the message: “We, the staff of Flash Fiction Online, do solemnly swear we are full of hooey, the magazine is NOT going under or closing,” and goes on to say that “sometimes you need a laugh.” Well that is certainly true in the current climate, and so Flash Fiction Online brings us four humorous stories to see us through this month. One is a reprint (“The Terrible” by John Wiswell) and is not reviewed here, but is well worth a read if you enjoy stories that riff on the absurdities of superhero universes.
“Strays,” by Marion Deeds, features a pair of shoes, a rather special and unusual pair of shoes. Or then again, perhaps not that unusual in this story’s world. This piece is listed as literary fiction; I would describe it as magical realism. In any case, it trots along at a nice pace and makes good use of dialogue to tell the story, rather than relying on dense prose (as is so often the case with literary fiction). A very enjoyable little tale although, I have to say, it didn’t actually make me laugh.
Next up, “The Black Clover Equation” by Zach Shephard. This story is written in the form of diary entries, and relates the saga of someone experimenting with the probabilities of good and bad luck. For example, he compares the positive and negative luck of a rabbit’s foot versus walking under a ladder by—how else?—walking under a ladder carrying a rabbit’s foot. This leads to a number of increasingly disastrous scenarios, and some really quite funny lines. Recommended.
Finally for this issue we have “How the 576th Annual Pollen Festival Blossomed My Budding Career” by Anna Yeatts. As the convoluted title might suggest, this is a strange piece. It’s told from the point of view of a sentient plant—named Iiliia—who’s competing for the “Victory Vine of Supreme Best Dressed” award. Iiliia finds itself (no gendered pronouns are used in this story which makes a sort of sense, given that most plants have both male and female reproductive organs) in a three-way tie with two other contenders: Yuuna and Miitica. This story manages to be both highly original and rather mundane. The idea of sentient plants competing in a beauty pageant is certainly new, but beyond that the plot is rather predictable. The use of “they” as both a singular and plural pronoun and the abundant plant-based terminology (pistils, canopy buds, stamens, chlorophyll, etc.), whilst clearly impeccably researched, unfortunately makes this a difficult read. That, in turn, wipes out the humor—comedy beats are rather lost when one has to read a sentence three times to make sense of it. Not a favorite.
Kat Day writes the award-winning, non-fiction science blog The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at chronicleflask.com. She also has a fiction blog, at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.